"'stepping Razor' gives Tosh his due"

01 Sep "'stepping Razor' gives Tosh his due"

The Boston Globe
September 1, 1993
by Steve Morse, Globe Staff

Written and directed by: Nicolas Campbell

If you love the hypnotic pulse and vision of Jamaican “roots” reggae, then you absolutely must see this new documentary on Peter Tosh. Although Tosh’s onetime bandmate Bob Marley is mostly credited for reggae’s global advances, it was Tosh who taught Marley to play guitar and whose contributions have long been underestimated.

“Stepping Razor — Red X,” which opens at the Museum of Fine Arts tonight, is enormously sympathetic to Tosh — perhaps too much so given Tosh’s sometimes cantankerous personality in real life — but it fittingly gives Tosh his due both as a musician and as a Third World revolutionary.

The film contains absorbing concert footage and interviews with numerous people who knew Tosh, from his family to fellow musicians and even Rastafarian healers and elders. They recognized Tosh’s “bush doctor” qualities (that was his nickname), since Tosh also traveled to Africa to study with various medicine men.

The film mostly centers around the so-called “Red X” tapes, which were tape-recorded cassettes that Tosh made between 1983 and 1987 (the year he was murdered at his home, supposedly by a disgruntled former employee). Tosh had planned to use the tapes as the basis of his autobiography. They consist of absorbing monologues in which he declares his life’s purpose of being “to help alleviate the dirt, the filth and corruption that my people have been inoculated with.”

Amid highly political concert tracks such as “Stepping Razor,” “Get Up, Stand Up” (which Tosh cowrote with Marley) and “Mama Africa,” there is resonant, interwoven footage of Jamaica’s most notorious ghetto, Trench Town. The squalor suggests the worst vestiges of the colonial mentality that Tosh continually blasted in his music.

Tosh was brought up a Christian, but later switched to Rastafarianism and debunked his Christian teachings: “They make sure they teach you that Jesus was the son of God and a white man.” That’s followed by the song, “You Can’t Blame the Youths,” which also attacks colonialists starting with Christopher Columbus and further explains Tosh’s reasons for becoming a radical.

Director Nicolas Campbell develops a cinematic flow as intoxicating as Tosh’s music. There are some needless studio recreations of the way Tosh was murdered (why use such contrived biopic methods?), but most of this is an inspiring, heart-filled documentary.